The Australian - Wish Magazine - - HOTELS -

An ur­ban oa­sis and con­tem­po­rary ryokan in equal mea­sures, this sim­ply beau­ti­ful ho­tel rep­re­sents Ja­panese hy­brid de­sign at its finest. Tra­di­tional ryokan orig­i­nally were sim­ple inns on the Tokaido trade route be­tween the orig­i­nal im­pe­rial seat of Ky­oto and its suc­ces­sor cap­i­tal Tokyo. Fre­quently they were sited near hot springs, and of­fered shel­ter and sus­te­nance, con­vivial com­mu­nal bathing, hos­pi­tal­ity and a re­as­sur­ing sense of home­li­ness. Such inns flour­ished on this sto­ried high­way in the 17th cen­tury but can still be found across Ja­pan, from tiny, tatami­mat­ted lodg­ings to five-star in­ter­pre­ta­tions such as The Ritz-Carl­ton Ky­oto.

I am not ex­actly clad in a yukata, pen­ning haiku and or­gan­is­ing mi­nus­cule buds into an ike­bana ar­range­ment in Room 416, but it does feel like a sanc­tu­ary of cul­ture and calm. The en­suite is a se­ries of con­nected ar­eas with a deep ofuro tub, white wall­pa­per textured with the del­i­cate out­lines of blos­soms and wooden-slat­ted floor; the Toto toi­let lifts its lid in salute and whooshes like a wa­ter­fall. There are cush­ion cov­ers fash­ioned from pale pink and sil­ver ki­mono bro­cade, hon­eyed tim­bers and re­cur­ring shippo (seven jew­els) mo­tifs of en­cir­cled petals.

The view is of the Kamo­gawa River and there are snowflakes fall­ing like con­fetti this crisp late-Jan­uary day. On the low ta­ble by the pic­ture win­dow sits a spiky bon­sai and dish of flaw­less straw­ber­ries with long stalks, as shiny and sculpted as threaded jew­els. A Ja­panese tea-set prom­ises a per­fect serve of sen­cha while 21st-cen­tury falder­als of the likes of T2 and Ne­spresso ma­chines are dis­creetly present, along with wel­come ex­tras such as fra­grant Asprey toi­letries, a lit­tle TV screen in the bath­room mir­ror, a choice of cot­ton or fluffy robes, and sumo-sized tow­els.

The 134-room long and low prop­erty opened in 2014 on the site of the his­toric Fu­jita Ho­tel; many of its fa­cil­i­ties, such as func­tion rooms and the linked Mizuki restau­rant space, are be­low ground level, with light wells and tall win­dows fac­ing rock walls and green­ery. Guest cham­bers, in­clud­ing 17 suites and two tatami rooms with fu­ton bed­ding, are ar­rayed across four floors, reached via long, un­furl­ing cor­ri­dors with ver­ti­cal-slat­ted walls and washi pa­per lanterns. With an av­er­age size of 50sqm, the ac­com­mo­da­tion is pro­claimed the largest in Ky­oto, and as­pects are of river, Zen-in­spired pocket gar­dens or a back­drop of the forested Hi­gashiyama moun­tains, glow­ing mauve and mys­te­ri­ous at sun­set. The de­sign ethos is miyabi, or sim­ple ele­gance, as in­ter­preted by Hong Kong-based de­signer Pe­ter Reme­dios and Spin Stu­dios; the over-arch­ing theme is based on the courtly Heian era, from 794 to 1185, when Ky­oto was the most pow­er­ful city in Ja­pan and its unas­sailed cen­tre of cul­ture.

Ac­cord­ingly, this is a ho­tel of im­mense, al­most old-fash­ioned cour­tesy. Ki­mono-clad guest ex­pe­ri­ence man­agers are on hand to ad­vise on itin­er­ar­ies and ser­vice staff speak very good English. Mac­aron mae­stro Pierre Hermé is vis­it­ing from Paris dur­ing my stay to over­see his bou­tique, af­ter­noon teas and rose cream pas­tries for break­fast. My choice of two of his flavours, nes­tled in a box, re­quires an es­cort to my gue­stroom and the rit­ual lay­ing out of the pil­lowy treats on my win­dow­side ta­ble. Tea? Yes please, and amid bow­ing and gen­tle laugh­ter and ar­rang­ing of ce­ramic cups, I nib­ble matcha mac­arons as the win­ter sun sets over old Ky­oto and can think of nowhere I would rather be. Su­san Kuro­sawa is The Aus­tralian’s travel ed­i­tor.


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